Spotlight: Steven Haulenbeek

Steven Haulenbeek is a Chicago based industrial designer and artist working in the fields of furniture, lighting, accessories, and objects for the home. He holds a BA in Drawing and Sculpture form Hope College in Holland Michigan and an MFA with concentration in Designed Objects from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2010 he founded his design practice, Steven Haulenbeek Design Concepts Inc. with the interest in experimental, material, and process based design work. His pieces run the gamut in scale, material and process but all strive for purity of form and aesthetic simplicity through a hands-on, experimental prototyping style. He was recently featured in the New York Times magazine as one of the top emerging American design talents. His work has been exhibited internationally.

Photo by Daniel Shea

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I am an artist and designer based in Chicago and I create furniture, lighting and objects for the home through hands-on material study and process experimentation. My most recent work utilizes the frigid Chicago winter environment and hand carved ice molds in cooperation with a fiery bronze foundry to create unique objects in cast bronze. I call this collection Ice-Cast Bronze.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? In May I exhibited the entire Ice-Cast Bronze collection for the first time at The Collective Design Fair in New York. Right now, I am working on a new Ice-Cast Bronze piece at a scale 10 times larger than anything I have accomplished in the past. If I can get the money to work out, it’s going to be mind-blowing. In other news, I have a commission for a cast bronze replica of a Technics 1200 turntable which I am really excited about, and I am also exploring a new process of creating objects in resin bonded sand.

Photo by Jonathan Allen

What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other designers are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? Navigating the business side of an independent creative practice. Design has become an increasingly popular vocation over the past couple decades. Universities that didn’t have a design program before, definitely have one now and they are never cheap. So the market is being flooded with thousands of hungry, debt-loaded designers graduating from these programs every year and all of them are competing for the same hallowed ground working for just a handful of decent companies. The ones that don’t give up entirely, end up creating they’re own independent companies where they realize that a business degree may have been more useful than their masters degree in design or fine art. I think that every art or design program should require a certain amount of credits dedicated to the basics of properly running an independent practice.

How has living in Chicago affected your design practice? Chicago has provided me with unique opportunities that never would have been possible almost anywhere else. Back in 2007 I moved to Atlanta for a job and I really considered staying there. It’s funny to think about what I would be doing there, seeing as my most recent body of work has been heavily influenced and even created by Chicago’s winter environment and I spend a fair amount of my time carving blocks of ice.

Photo by Jonathan Allen

What products or companies are you interested in right now? Over the past six or seven months I have been exploring new territory with regard to my work and market. For several years I have been operating within an industrial design framework, creating designs for replication and selling to either interior designers or showrooms. I have also done some product licensing as well as some self produced pieces for my own furniture line. More recently I have been creating work which is geared towards the gallery market so I have been having a lot of conversations with fine art galleries that specialize in contemporary design as opposed to showrooms or furniture manufacturers. I’ve been much more interested in designers who are creating unique objects that explore the boundaries between design and art and the handful of galleries that represent this work.

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? Ice-Cast Bronze process has been my obsession of choice. My studio is connected through an adjoining door to a bronze foundry. This situation coupled with the fact that I am in Chicago which freezes solid for six months out of the year eventually lead me to develop a system which would allow me to create objects in cast bronze using hand carved ice molds. Each piece begins with a block of solid ice or sometimes just a frigid Chicago winter day. A recess is meticulously carved into the ice and then filled with hot casting wax. The rapid cooling of the wax against the ice naturally creates an other worldly texture and each piece is transformed into solid bronze via the lost wax process. Each piece is one-of-a-kind as the wax is destroyed within the process of making the objects in bronze. This work started with vessels but has since grown to include mirrors, side tables, candle holders, lighting and more.

Tell us a joke. Design will save the world. Hahahahahaha

What’s your favorite thing about your city? In Chicago there is space to be had and at a reasonable price which allows me to work in a way that is very hands on with few limits on scale. Much of my work has relied heavily on partnerships with local manufacturers. The midwest and specifically Chicago, is packed full of manufacturing facilities where I can walk through the door, and talk to the actual person creating the work. It is through this intimate interaction between designer and artisan that the best work is produced.

Photo by Jonathan Allen

What is your beverage of choice when working in your studio? I drink a ridiculous amount of coffee. Morning until night. Always hot. Never icy.

What are you really excited about right now? Resin Bonded Sand. It’s the new hot shit.

Favorite place to shop? Mcmaster Carr, Uline, Amazon, Ebay, Craigslist, the internet in general.

Photo by Jonathan Allen